NEW YORK -- Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman, the last to salute his countryman and teammate in the postgame congratulatory line, announced what everyone was thinking after the Rangers' 1-0 win against the Red Wings Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
"Hank's back," he proclaimed.
And it certainly appears that way after Henrik Lundqvist blanked the Wings in a 38-save effort to record his third shutout of the season.
The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner was pristine in goal, battling with Red Wings starter and future U.S. Olympian Jimmy Howard in what turned out to be an absolutely epic goaltending duel.
Neither netminder yielded a thing until Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello tallied his 12th goal of the season on a deflected pass with 5:58 remaining in regulation. Prior to Zuccarello's goal -- which ties him with veteran Brad Richards for the team lead -- the two Original Six clubs had combined for 80 shots in total -- 44 for the Rangers and 36 for the Red Wings.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last time an NHL game with that many shots in which only one goal was scored was back on January 12, 2010, when the Rangers and Devils combined for 96 shots before Patrik Elias finally won the game for New Jersey in the eighth round of the shootout.
"What you saw tonight was two goaltenders at the top of their game," coach Alain Vigneault marveled.
Of course, it was easier for Vigneault to espouse the game's entertainment value than his counterpart in Detroit, whose injury-ravaged squad delivered a fine performance on the road only to be beat on an ugly goal with time winding down.
"In the second half you could tell as you got to the end -- I think we both felt that the next mistake is going to be the difference here," Lundqvist said. "And it was."
Zuccarello's sustained productivity continues to be a pleasant surprise for the Rangers, particularly considering the diminutive Norwegian forward spent a short stint in the doghouse as a healthy scratch.
All credit due to Zuccarello, he didn't sulk. Instead, he has bounced back to become one of the team's most consistent contributors.
"When I benched him, he wasn't blaming me or anyone else. He wasn't producing the way he wanted to," Vigneault said. "He's been great for us since he's been back."
Zuccarello, who will be the lone NHLer on the Norwegian national squad competing in Sochi, Russia, next month, has two goals and four points in the past five games.
"I tried to pass it. It was a lucky bounce," Zuccarello said of his goal. "We'll take it. An important two points for us."
His deciding goal boosted the Rangers to their fourth win in the past five games, though it has been Lundqvist who has served as the true difference-maker.
Lundqvist has been stellar with a 4-1-0 record, 1.40 goals-against average and .957 save percentage during that span. Thursday was the 48th shutout of his career.
Asked if he felt that Stralman's proclamation was accurate, he said:
"I'm getting there."
Dating back to the Rangers' trip to Florida right before the new year, Lundqvist felt his game coming together. He simplified his play, tried to be more patient and, as a result, gained more confidence.
The Rangers have reaped the benefits.
With Thursday's win, the 25-21-3 Rangers moved into sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. They currently occupy the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the Washington Capitals.
"It's a great feeling when you play well as a group and it pays off," Lundqvist said. "That's been happening a lot lately."